‘The parallels were freaky’: Toa Fraser on making Sweet Tooth in New Zealand during a pandemic

The director talks to David Farrier concerning the hit Netflix present, his mid-career pivot into TV, and why he selected to go public together with his Parkinson’s prognosis.

This interview initially appeared on David Farrier’s e-newsletter Webworm.

Proper now, my love is pure for Candy Tooth.

The present comprises a number of issues I like: a weird state of affairs painted huge, cute animals, apocalyptic undertones, candy father-and-son relationships, loss, lovely cinematography.

Christian Convery as Gus in Candy Tooth (Picture: Netflix)

It’s on Netflix, which employs me generally, so I assume that’s one other factor I like. No, they don’t seem to be paying me to write down this.

The opposite huge factor I like about Candy Tooth? New Zealand. Watching this present is de facto enjoyable when you’re from Aotearoa — oh, there’s Auckland Zoo! There’s that ivy constructing down by Shortland Avenue exterior that bizarre males’s membership! There’s that again alley I walked down that point to eat two McDonalds double cheeseburger combos earlier than spewing all of them up the following morning! To not point out all of the Kiwi actors that pop up each 10 seconds.

I really had no thought this collection was taking pictures down in New Zealand. All of the discuss in my little circle was Lord of the Rings (sure, Amazon needs this to be their Recreation of Thrones, minus the shitty ending) and Cowboy Bebop — however I’d heard nothing of this lil’ comedian ebook adaptation.

And but, right here it’s. Then I came upon that my buddy Toa Fraser had directed a few of the episodes. After which I came upon he was a producing director, too! “Some kind of friend” I muttered to myself, shocked he hadn’t instructed me about any of this, or solid me on this great collection as some type of nerdy journalist character.

Sweet Tooth producer Evan Moore and director Toa Fraser

Candy Tooth producer Evan Moore and director Toa Fraser (Picture equipped)

Full disclosure: Toa and I usually are not besties and I didn’t count on him to inform me about this present. However he’s all the time been sort to me, and I assume I’d describe us as on-line buddies. I bear in mind being on the Toronto Movie Pageant when his glorious The Lifeless Lands premiered at about 11pm. I used to be there in 2014, working as a popular culture reporter. Toa knew I used to be a fan, and helped wrangle the solid for my interviews. He’s all the time been good to me on-line, sharing tweets sometimes about issues we each like. We inhabit a tiny world; I’ve spent the final yr working together with his editor from Lifeless Lands, Dan. Dan is one other glorious human.

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Toa’s directed performs, characteristic movies – comedy to thriller to motion – and extra not too long ago, a bunch of actually nice fucking TV present episodes.

For me — watching from afar in my little doco world / Webworm world — there’s so much to admire about Toa. He’ll often give recommendation and perception on his Twitter. And if it’s ever about him, it’s not simply selfies, however utter honesty.

So yeah, once I noticed Toa had quietly been directing my favorite new present, I dropped him a line telling him I needed to speak to him for Webworm.

He agreed, and I believe when you’re into movie and TV, you’ll like this dialog. The entire thought of taking pictures Candy Tooth in New Zealand throughout a pandemic was additionally unusual, as mentioned himself:

“Obviously the parallels with the story — a father and son seek refuge from a virus in an isolated place of natural beauty — were pretty freaky.”

So for extra on that, and Candy Tooth and appearing and directing and New Zealand, right here is our dialog.


Hey Toa. I simply watched the primary episode of Candy Tooth. Find it irresistible. Then I see you have been concerned, directing some episodes. And have been an EP [executive producer] on the present too I believe?

Sure, I used to be the manufacturing director. I directed two episodes (‘Secret Sauce’ and ‘When Pubba Met Birdie’) and helped information the remaining. Largely I simply tried to be supportive of Jim Mickle, the showrunner, whose imaginative and prescient took Jeff Lemire’s books to the display screen.

How did you come to this attractive lil’ collection?

I used to be taking pictures a present within the northern hemisphere winter of 2019/2020 in Rhode Island. My buddy Mel Turner, who is among the producers, known as and talked to me about it. Initially it simply seemed like a superb excuse to return again to New Zealand to work.

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However then we talked extra, and I met Jim and producer Linda Moran, and the workforce from Workforce Downey, watched the pilot and it actually resonated with me. It’s a narrative with an enormous coronary heart a couple of child from a blended background trying to find id, household and belonging.

Up till then, for a few years, I had been on the highway like The Littlest Hobo or Invoice Bixby within the TV Hulk. However then one morning I awakened in a lodge in Windfall with the very robust feeling that the wind had modified, and I used to be headed again to the Pacific.

This was January 2020. I obtained again to New Zealand. After which the pandemic occurred.

Christian Convery in Toa Fraser’s director's chair

Gus (Christian Convery) steals Toa Fraser’s chair (Picture: Toa Fraser/equipped)

If you have been at a celebration with somebody who hadn’t seen Candy Tooth, and also you have been attempting to be heard over loud music, what do you yell at them to make them perceive it in as easy a manner as doable?

It’s a couple of child! A boy! He’s human and he’s a deer! He’s a hybrid! He’s trying to find his mother in a post-apocalyptic world. He’s on the highway with an enormous gruffly dude known as Jep!

Nevertheless it’s not grim and dirty. It’s like a fairy story. However an actual fairy story! The place individuals die and cry and get scared. Nevertheless it’s hopeful and optimistic.

What do you assume? It’s by no means gonna get made, is it.

I really feel like once I was in New Zealand, I knew they have been making Lord of the Rings there, I knew they have been making Cowboy Bebop as a result of I noticed John Cho on this comedian retailer I like, however I had no thought Candy Tooth was being shot in New Zealand. Was this a secret or am I simply gradual?

It wasn’t a secret per se, we simply type of put our heads down and obtained on and did it. I do know what you imply, and I do like we type of snuck in below the radar. It jogs my memory of the legendary Fijian SAS soldier Sekonaia Takavesi, who I met a number of years in the past. Very quiet, unassuming dude. Quiet however lethal.

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You will have made a few of my favorite movies like The Lifeless Lands, however I additionally see you directing numerous my favorite collection – I believe you had a hand in The Affair which is a responsible pleasure of mine. How do you get into that sport in Hollywood, and the way’s that been? Like I think about it’s barely completely different strolling into another person’s world, after which making it your individual? However then you definately additionally should hold a method over all the collection, with different administrators coming in. How does all that work?

There was a turning level in my profession a number of years in the past. I used to be in France with my household on vacation. Sounds flash however we hadn’t actually ever carried out something like that earlier than.

It was the primary time in a very long time that I ended reaching for one thing. We have been within the Ardèche, that historical, numinous place Werner Herzog visited in his film The Cave of Forgotten Desires. I obtained a name from my supervisor Amotz Zakai that John Logan was in search of a director for a really particular episode of Penny Dreadful, a bottle episode in season three. We talked, I obtained the job, went straight to Eire the following week. It was the primary TV factor I did.

I’ve all the time favoured constraints. My first play Naked was two actors on a naked stage. You’re employed with what you’ve obtained. So I actually take pleasure in coming right into a present, learning it, studying the fashion, what the constraints are, what the challenges are, and discovering a delicate technique to specific your self inside that. And I really like bringing one thing notably Pasifika to my directing course of, that makes me distinctive and which, typically talking, actors appear to actually reply to. Dominic West, as an example, was actually into my bodily heat ups on The Affair.

I see the present hit no. 1 within the US, and no 1 in New Zealand on the Netflix charts — that have to be good? What do you do to have a good time?

Within the immortal phrases of Ali Lauiti’iti when requested what he would do if the Warriors gained the NRL Grand Ultimate in 2002: I don’t know, I’ll most likely simply have an enormous feed and go to the films.

I’m going to see Out of Sight on the Hollywood in Avondale on Thursday night time. Past that, not a lot.

Candy Tooth hits #1 on Netflix New Zealand (at time of writing it was at #1 within the USA, too – and a load of different locations)

It is a very lame query however what was your favorite a part of engaged on this present?

I imply the entire thing was simply such a fantastic expertise, even the robust days schlepping across the countryside within the rain within the winter.

Working with Jim Mickle. He’s like what it should have been prefer to work with George Lucas on the primary Star Wars: “OK we’re going to do this with puppets? And it’s the apocalypse but it’s going to be gorgeous? And there’s this fucking groundhog thing that talks and is into fashion?”

And being again in New Zealand working with some outdated buddies, like manufacturing designer Nick Bassett, numerous the grips, my mates Monsie and Swampy, Roger Greens, the man who does the…erm… greens, numerous the stunt workforce like Mana Davis, Tipene Kerei and Te Kani Collier with whom I did The Deadlands.

However one actually stand out collaboration was with Bree Peters, who I put ahead as an appearing coach for Christian Convery (Gus) and Naledi Murray, who performs Wendy.

Bree was on set on daily basis with Christian, enjoying video games, holding it gentle, working with the administrators and the actors, engaged on the scenes and performances. She was integral.

An enormous field of Gus’ s slingshots (Picture: Toa Fraser/equipped)

There are some new faces on this collection. I really feel like I’ve found some new actors I need to observe. Did you discover the identical factor?

Completely! The solid is unimaginable, throughout the board.

My daughter knew Stefania (LaVie Owen, who performs Bear) from watching The Carrie Diaries. I had seen Nonso (Anozie, who performs Tommy) in a few issues, together with The Laundromat.

Nonso is a type of actors like James Rolleston that when you’re not cautious as a director you’ll be able to miss what he’s doing together with his efficiency. He’s speaking with the digital camera and the viewers on one other degree. It’s solely actually been within the final week seeing the present in its full glory that I’ve seen all of the nuance in his efficiency.

And naturally it was such a pleasure to work with so many nice New Zealand actors like Jodie Rimmer — so great in In My Father’s Den — who ate up her function because the mysterious Judy.

Additionally, you made this throughout a pandemic. Was that an extremely laborious side of manufacturing? Did it change the way in which you labored?

Effectively once more, we have been fortunate to be right here. As everyone knows, the New Zealand response to Covid has been unimaginable. Nonetheless we’re a world manufacturing and I do know the manufacturing workforce put in some very lengthy hours getting the important thing solid and crew onto planes and thru MIQ.

On the bottom in Auckland, we went into Degree 3 proper in the midst of prep, which was a nightmare for the wardrobe and artwork departments. They have been constructing this large assortment of very intricate costumes, and these lovely units, however couldn’t purchase stuff, couldn’t get the crew…

And when Auckland obtained again to Degree 1, we nonetheless had a lot stricter Covid protocols: necessary masks, temperature checks, cleansing requirements, no guests on set.

On the identical time I used to be speaking with buddies abroad in locations like LA or New York or Toronto the place both they weren’t working or have been below far more excessive protocols and it was fairly simple to really feel very fortunate.

Clearly the parallels with the story — a father and son search refuge from a virus in an remoted place of pure magnificence — have been fairly freaky.

Toa Fraser on the set of Sweet Tooth

Toa Fraser planning a shot (Picture: Toa Fraser/equipped)

I despatched you a message after you posted publicly about having Parkinsons, and I heard you on RNZ speaking about it. Was that one thing that was in your thoughts when you have been making this present too?

Thanks to your message. Sure, completely it was very a lot on my thoughts the entire time I used to be on the present, as it’s on daily basis.

The illness may be very persistent like that. I had been identified fairly quickly after I did Penny Dreadful. I bear in mind speaking to Eva Inexperienced concerning the tremor in my proper hand.

Any individual instructed me not too long ago that by the point you get identified you’ll have had it for one thing like 20 years — and in hindsight, the signs have been there a very long time earlier than the prognosis. I clearly had it proper by way of Giselle, The Lifeless Lands and 6 Days.

However after I obtained identified I used to be decided to maintain it quiet for so long as I might. Just a few issues occurred final yr that made me rethink that.

It’s fucking terrifying, I believe, placing something private about your self out into the world. How did you discover doing that, speaking overtly and truthfully — and have been you shocked about something after doing so?

I’m genuinely shocked on the veritable outpouring of affection and assist that has come my manner. I’m very grateful for that.

I wrestled with the thought of opening up about it for therefore lengthy nevertheless it simply obtained to some extent the place the trouble of attempting to cover it was too painful.

You already know, there’s actual the Aristocracy in discretion. I consider individuals like David Bowie and Chadwick Boseman. However for me I most popular to take the danger of claiming it out loud and have religion that in doing so it could be a constructive factor.

I’ve typically admired you from afar as you simply make all these items — some very completely different genres of movie, after which these exhibits I watch. At this level in your profession, what makes you essentially the most happy, work-wise?

I realized a very long time in the past that the work is the reward. I really feel fulfilled once I can put together properly, remedy issues, work with nice individuals, create a constructive, secure setting on set the place actors and crew can do their finest work, giggle, sweat, bleed, cry, depart all of it on the ground and ideally go house with out going into extra time.

The outcomes of the work, you’ll be able to’t management. However often it’s good when one thing you’ve helped make is obtained so properly, like Candy Tooth.

Coffee cart on the Sweet Tooth set

Leah Robertson helming the NZ movie trade espresso cart! (Picture: Toa Fraser/equipped)

Thanks Toa. I actually can’t wait to observe extra Candy Tooth. Thrilled you’re part of this factor that’s popping off in the intervening time. Be sure you take a second to take pleasure in it, please! Oh, shit — rapidly — something you’re watching or listening to in the intervening time that you’d advocate? All the time in search of good, inventive peoples recommends! 

I’ve been on a rabbit-hole habit to the Adam Curtis documentaries.

Liked Crip Camp. Liked Creamerie.

I watched Shane once more not too long ago, an ancestor of Candy Tooth, and liked it.

I’m actually having fun with Charlotte Grimshaw’s The Mirror E book. And when you haven’t seen the Teine Sā collection, have a look, particularly Matasila Freshwater’s episode Hiama. Matasila is type of a genius.

This interview was first revealed on David Farrier’s Webworm e-newsletter.